Orlando, FL, home to a toll booth every 3 miles and drivers zipping along at 45 on a 60-mph freeway, was where I spent three days, Jan. 18-20th. All I can say to the restaurant servers down there in Florida is a mighty “bless your heart, y’all” for serving our beloved seniors (and I am on that road) who want separate checks, dinner promptly at 4:30, a chair for their portable oxygen, and water with no lemon (because, after all, that clearly is a crime against nature) and four ice cubes instead of a scoop. I write the line about the water with my favorite 93-year old in mind and with a smile on my face. [Note: I wrote this Orlando post on 1/27/13, before I learned that my dad was hospitalized on 1/28 – we are hoping the stay is not long. My dad passed away on 5/20/13.]
My companion for this trip was Hanna, who brings merriment to any occasion; I was glad to have her for my travel buddy. She was a big help to both her Grandpa and to me during the weekend. She and I flew out of Raleigh at o’dark hundred on Friday morning. (And we woke to some wet snow in Raleigh on my car!) The occasion was a banquet where my dad would receive Lifetime Achievement Award from NOCAD (National Organization of Coaches Association Directors). I am no stranger to exaggeration in my narrative, when the mood strikes, although I can say with no exaggeration that this was a monumental honor to my father, who looked forward to it for months and months after receiving the letter with the news of the award. He was surrounded by respect and admiration from the NOCAD board of directors, their wives, and all of the attendees on the night of the banquet. Ralph loved every minute of the evening. My dad has been quite ill since the end of November and has had lung issues, requiring him to use oxygen much of the time. His attitude and resolve to improve is impressively positive.
Our lodging was an Embassy Suites that was only a few months old, and all of my dad’s meetings and the banquet were in the hotel. My first small world story: Hanna and I ran/walked briskly to our connection in Charlotte. We got to the gate and I heard a voice behind me, looked up and it was my nephew Jim (Karen’s first) from Clarkesville, TN, who was also meeting that same connection. And he was in row 12, right in front of us. I had not seen him in 15 years or so, and Hanna did not know who he was because she had not seen him since she was maybe 9! A pleasant surprise for sure! Not only was it nice to see Jim, he pitched right in with his Grandpa and helped out tremendously over the weekend with a myriad of duties and favors.
Karen, my oldest sister who lives with my dad, did a super job coordinating the oxygen requirements, and made sure Delta had all of the appropriate forms/paperwork required for passengers needing oxygen. As I said, Karen’s son Jim also was in attendance. Vicky, our sister in Great Falls, unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute as she had been very sick herself with a respiratory infection, and was doing everything possible to ward off pneumonia. The timing of her illness was unfortunate, and our reassurance that she was missed was certainly not the same as her being there, nor did it make her feel less sad about missing the event. Her need to get well outweighed her need to travel cross-country. She babysits her little grand-girls Rylie and Charlie Victoria during the week, and they also need her to be well. (They expect to have fun everyday with their grandma & grandpa!)
Billy flew in from Charlotte. He and Hanna “worked the room” at the banquet, both being their charming selves, and handed out Montana Coaches Assoc. pens to all in attendance, per Ralph’s directive. I didn’t get this on camera, but a funny memory was when my dad tasted the chicken at the banquet, proclaimed to our table that it was “excellent,” followed by my brother raising his arms as if to praise the almighty, followed by a sign of the cross. For anyone reading this who does not know that my dad is a picky eater, HE IS A PICKY EATER…A SUPER PICKY EATER. You may think, “I know someone probably more picky when it comes to food…” No, you don’t, you really don’t. Nope. Ralph believes if a dish on a menu has more than one name, chances are good that he will not like it. I should have reminded him that he likes Swedish Meatballs, though maybe he considers meatballs the one word, and Swedish is merely the country of origin, a requirement for the recipe in this one instance, to differentiate between – say – Italian Meatballs.
The rest of us at the dinner table had fish (grouper) and chicken. The chicken was quite simply baked with a little seasoning and a small amount of a tomato sauce on top. Hanna knows her grandpa well enough that when his plate came, she immediately speared his chicken and replaced it with hers (at lightning speed) because a quick visual told her that his piece of fowl had more seasoning and/or tomato sauce on it than hers. And, this was a first: Ralph ate a little of the risotto which accompanied our main course! It was very creamy and delightful (I’m going to make it sometime), and darned if he didn’t say it was “okay.” Not excellent, but okay, and he ate it. Oh – the appetizer was some greens surrounded by two scallops and two shrimp. Our waiter was perplexed when my dad said he could take it away, that he would not be eating it. The polite waiter said, “but… there’s four… ” The plate looked lovely, but if you don’t like seafood, you don’t like it, whether there is 4, 5, or a net full of Mrs. Paul’s Fabulous Fish Filets. (I think we gave the plate to Jim.) Dinner was followed by homemade custard, which was tasty, reminiscent of our mother’s custard baked in pyrex dishes, baked in a water bath in the old metal 9×12 pan. Dessert prompted a couple stories from my dad about mom’s cooking.
Following dinner, and some words from Mr. & Mrs. Keith Richardson (NOCAD’s Executive Director and his sweeter-than-pie wife, Tallulah, who expertly organized the conference), we were invited as a family to come to the front where I introduced our fam and from where we all traveled, and that our sister Vicky was very sick in Montana, but wished she was with us. It was impromptu as I had been asked shortly before the presentation if I would say who was who. My dad then stood at the podium, and with only the microphone and his confident, loud voice, he gave a sincere, warm, and funny thank-you speech, garnering him a standing O, with many in attendance praising him afterwards. After that, we all went up to dad and Billy’s room where we all checked our oxygen for the fun of it, got my dad some oxygen hits, and admired his award plaque and ring. My dad told us that he was disappointed that he forgot to thank his entire family, including our mother. We assured him that we knew his sentiments, and frankly we were all impressed with the speech he gave, especially because he has not given a speech in years.
We were provided by NOCAD with a shuttle to Epcot Center on DisneyWorld property on Saturday night, where we had over four hours at Epcot to walk around (it’s a lonnnggg walk). We enjoyed a splendid buffet, in a private banquet room just for the NOCAD group. Ralph’s brain and heart were willing to walk all over Epcot, but his body was needing some technology on wheels, hence the rented scooter. It probably was 68 degrees, lovely weather, and we were all comfortable with light sweaters or no sweaters – except for my dad. The guy has no meat on his bones, so he is often cold. He had his super-favorite down jacket that fits in a stuff sack (conveniently carried in his jacket pocket). You’ll see photos in the gallery of the famed “best jacket ever” and hood which kept his noggin toasty.
My second small world story: So we were eating our dinner, the lovely buffet just for the NOCAD group, and we had two nice couples who joined our table, both from Oregon, one couple from Sweet Home and the other from Salem. We got to talking and Hanna said she had a friend from Sweet Home and after a minute of conversing, it turned out this retired coach at our table taught Hanna’s friend in high school at Sweet Home, plus the friend’s mother. So – we snapped a pic with Hanna’s phone, which she immediately sent to her friend thanks to social networking. And her friend was stunned, of course, that Hanna was having dinner in Orlando with one of his former teachers. The evening was capped by watching Epcot’s fireworks about 9 pm and I’ll always remember those bursts of color lighting up the area and watching Han and her gramps together, looking up at the sky.
Finally, during our stay we all listened to many old stories, followed by questions from his rapt audience of coaches at the two functions, and even though we’d heard some before it was completely un-boring to hear my dad tell of his adventures with impeccable details. Most notable include his daily promotion for five straight days in the Army Air Corps (now Air Force) from Pvt 1st Class to Staff Sgt. (his commander wanted to keep him on base in Boca Raton, rather than see him shipped off to Officer Training School to be a hospital administrator). Equally interesting and impressive is the fact that he was a 13’0 pole vaulter in college in 1941 with a bamboo pole AND was a 23-foot long jumper – on grass!! Of course his position in the Air Corps as a parachute instructor while stationed in Japan (because he was a pole vaulter!) is humorous because he had never parachuted in his life… and never told those he trained. My father’s stories concluded with some funny tales about my mother and her sweetness and kindness and sense of humor, adding that they were married for 51 years, 2 months.
This is not Orlando related, but it is something certainly worth mentioning because it counts among one of the most memorable and meaningful moments of my dad’s life. At the 2012 MCA Coaches Clinic, a former student and athlete, Mark Reed (Great Falls High School, mid 70’s, cannot recall the year!) made a surprise appearance to donate $10,000 to the MCA scholarship fund for Montana high school students in Ralph’s name. My dad talked about that for weeks and still tells anyone who listens! Mark was a high jumper on my dad’s GFHS track team. Ralph described Mark’s achievements to me recently, saying “He was amazing. Mark was an ordinary athlete one day and overnight he was an extraordinary high jumper.” Mark left Great Falls on a track scholarship to the University of Houston, becoming an All-American a few times in college in the high jump, plus an Olympic trials finalist (twice). All of that was a huge source of pride for Mark’s my father; more importantly to Ralph, Mark has become a success as a man, educator, and now the head of Charlotte Country Day School in Charlotte, NC. Mark was mentored by my father and is now a mentor to young students. And Ralph loves that!
Finally… I think you’ll enjoy the photos in this gallery, which includes some from Hanna’s and my excursion to Universal Studios.